Citizen Action Monitor

The year is circa 2393. A historian narrator living in China recounts the events that led to the Great Collapse of Western Civilization

redflag 2Such is the premise of a fascinating new book — The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future

No 1155 Posted by fw, September 30, 2014

This post features two excerpts from the book, a citation and brief note about the contents, note about the authors, and link to a Mother Jones’ review of the book

Excerpt 1 — From the book’s Introduction

Front pageThe occasion is the tercentenary of the end of Western Culture (1540-2093); the dilemma being addressed is how we – the children of the Enlightenment – failed to act on robust information about climate change and knowledge of the damaging events that were about to unfold. Our historian concludes that a second Dark Age had fallen on Western civilization, in which denial and self-deception, rooted in an ideological fixation on “free” markets, disabled the world’s powerful nations in the face of tragedy. Moreover, the scientists who best understand the problem were hamstrung by their own cultural practices, which demanded an excessively stringent standard for accepting claims of any kind – even those involving imminent threats. Here, our future historian, living in the Second People’s Republic of China, recounts the events of the Period of the Penumbra* (1988-2093) that led to the Great Collapse and Mass Migration (2073-2093). (pp. ix-x)

*penumbra – the period when a dark shadow fell over Earth


Excerpt 2 — Definition of capitalism from the book’s Lexicon of Archaic Terms – “archaic” because the narrative is set 300 years in the future

capitalism – A form of socioeconomic organization that dominated Western Europe and North America from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries, in which the means of production and distribution of goods and services were owned either by individuals or by government-chartered legal entities called “corporations”. Typically these entities were operated for-profit, with the surplus value produced by workers funneled to owners, managers, and “investors”, third parties who owned “stock” in a company but had liability neither for its debts nor its social consequences. The separation of work from ownership produced a concentration of wealth amongst a tiny elite, who could then purchase more favorable laws and regulations from their host governments. One popular notion about capitalism of the period was than it operated through a process of creative destruction. Ultimately, capitalism was paralyzed in the face of the rapid climate destabilization it drove, destroying itself. (p. 54)


Citation and note about the contents

The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, Columbia University Press, 2014

The book’s four chapters and epilogue are a meagre 52 pages. The other 40 pages include: Acknowledgements, Introduction, Lexicon of Archaic Terms, Interview with the Authors, Notes, and About the Authors.


About the authors

Naomi Oreskes is Professor of History and Science Studies at the University of California, San Diego, and Adjunct Professor of Geosciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Her publications include The Rejection of Continental Drift: Theory and Method in American Earth Science (1999), Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming (with Erik M. Conway, 2010), and Science on a Mission: American Oceanography from the Cold War to Climate Change (forthcoming). Her latest project is Assessing Assessments: A Historical and Philosophical Study of Scientific Assessments for Environmental Policy in the Late 20th Century (with Dale Jamieson and Michael Oppenheimer).

Erik M. Conway is a historian of science and technology based in Pasadena, California. His publications include Blind Landings: Low-Visibility Operations in American Aviation, 1918–1958 (2006),Atmospheric Science at NASA: A History (2008), and Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming (with Naomi Oreskes, 2010).


Mother Jones’ Review of the Book

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